The shop was empty as Hermione walked in. That wasn't surprising given the late hour, but it was surprising considering she had sent them both an Owl that afternoon; they had to have been expecting her.
Making her way past the shelves lined with garishly decorated boxes and the overflowing crates along the floor, it never failed to make her smile to see all that they created in here.
The shop wasn't supposed to be completely empty, though; Hermione had expected to see at least one of the twins. She had been pretty clear in her note. She was early, of course, but with them living above the shop, they couldn't be far away.
Letting herself into the back of the store, she made her way up the stairs, towards the small flat. The door at the top of the stairs was open. Hermione knocked as she stepped through.
"Hello? Fred? George?"
One of them answered from one of the bedrooms. "In here."
She didn't hesitate to make her way down the hall to the bedroom. Rounding the corner, she opened her mouth to say hello, but the only sound that escaped her sounded more like a squeak. With her hand brought up instantly to cover her eyes, she gasped out, "What the hell are you doing?"
"I was waiting for you," he said in what she assumed to be his sultry voice. "For our meeting."
"You normally wear pants to our meetings!" Hermione exclaimed, turning to face the door. "I liked the fact that you wore pants to our meetings; it was professional. Where the hell are your pants?!"
"I didn't think you wanted me to be wearing them!" She could hear him get off of the bed, and then the sound of a zipper. "I got your note."
"Yes, and it said I'd bring the papers by after dinner at my parents'. Nowhere did it say 'please, Fred, don't wear any pants'. How could you think this?"
He pushed his way past her into the lounge, and he grabbed a sheet of parchment off the table. Holding it up with a great deal of relish, he cleared his throat...
He chuckled as Hermione's small owl darted out of the shop, hastily avoiding the charmed bats that lingered above the shelves. Undoing the scroll, his eyes widened as he read what she had sent him.
"Bloody hell!" Looking around the shop, he called the assistant over. "Will you mind the counter? I need to talk to George out back."
"Of course, Mr. Weasley." She nodded quickly.
He found George out the back, hovering over a simmering cauldron. "Did you get a message from Hermione?"
"Yeah," George said quickly, skimming the top off the amber liquid. "What about it?"
"You didn't pick up on the hint? That's not what I expected from Granger."
"There was no hint in mine; she's just coming by after dinner to drop off the paperwork. What did she say in yours?"
Fred handed him the parchment. "She means what I think she means, don't you think?"
"It could mean anything. Hermione isn't the propositioning type. Still, you could be right; it has been a while since she was with someone. It would be something, though, Hermione Granger wanting you to repay her with..."
"It doesn't seem right," George said slowly, putting the sheet down.
"What doesn't? Her wanting it or is it her wanting me?"
His brother smiled at him, shaking his head slightly. "Hey, look at you – she'd be mad. I just can't imagine Hermione Granger being so forward. If she means this, she's not expecting rejection. I didn't think she'd be that confident."
"Well, maybe being alone for a while and how it all ended with Ron made her realise that you don't get anything by fooling around," Fred reasoned. For a brief moment when he'd read the note he'd told himself it didn't mean anything, but then he'd realised with amazing clarity that he wanted it to mean something. He wanted her to want him, and not just for how he looked. He'd always found Hermione fascinating. She didn't take any of George and his games, she put Ron in his place better than his mother, and she was the only witch who was better at potions than them.
There had been several times during their years at Hogwarts when he'd thought that maybe he could fall for her, but then Ron would sit beside him, and moon over her like a fool. He would snap out of it then, only for it to happen all over again.
"It's a big risk," George said, removing the cauldron from the flame. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know," he whispered, realising then that he hadn't thought that far. "She's normally shy when it comes to this sort of stuff. If I ignore it – she's likely to never do it again. But then, if I do acknowledge this, and she never meant it..."
"Welcome to hell."
"This is your big chance, though. You may never get another one," George said, grabbing a drink from the icebox.
"My big chance?"
"I'm not blind, brother. I know you fancy the pants off her. You're worse than Ron. He was completely clueless to the fact that the feelings he had were actually feelings of the romantic persuasion. You, on the other hand, know what they are, but you choose to ignore them."
"I don't fancy Granger! Sure, she's attractive, bloody clever, and she does put up with our shit. That doesn't mean I fancy her." Fred laughed, taking the other bottle from George.
"Of course you don't." George laughed, sitting down on one of the stools. "Do you remember when she broke up with that Gordon fellow? Even Ron was surprised by how keen you were to go beat him up, and she'd broken his heart, not the other way around."
"He was a bastard. She could do so much better than him."
"Right. How about a few months back when she got really bad food poisoning? Ginny had to practically barricade the door to keep you out - you didn't want to be away from her."
Ignoring his grin, Fred drank deeply from the bottle. "Maybe I fancy her, a little."
"There's a little, and then there is head over bloody heels in love with her." George laughed. "Everyone has figured it out, everyone except for Hermione. For a smart woman, she's remarkably daft when it comes to love sometimes."
"It's not that it matters anyway," he muttered. "It's not like she would ever fancy me."
"Why not? I have to say, being completely unbiased, that you are a catch. We both are - what girl wouldn't fancy us?"
"One with taste, good judgement, and one of the best bullshit detectors I've ever come across."
"Well, that's true." George nodded, before throwing a smile at his brother. "Are you really going to be chicken about it? Maybe she does fancy you, and this note is a way to get you to do something. Assuming she wants you, doing something about this could be the best thing that you ever do."
"She could kill me..."
"Or she'll thank Merlin that you've finally got the guts to do something. It's either a little pain, or a really big pay off. At least if she turns you down, you'll be able to say you tried, and then you can move on."
"It's not going to be a small amount of pain," Fred said slowly. "She could hurt me in ways that I can't even begin to imagine."
"You are worse than Ron when he went after Luna, coming up with a million and one excuses as to why it'd never work. You just have to take it by the balls and decide if it's a chance you are willing to take. You aren't scared of anything, let alone a scrap of a woman who could make you so very happy. I'm sure you know what you want to do. You just don't want to get turned down."
"No." George laughed. "But you don't know if that's going to happen. I'll tell you what. I'll stay at Angie's tonight. Give you kids some privacy and maybe she'll just drop the papers off. Or maybe you'll finally get what you've wanted for a long time."
"You knew all along, didn't you?" Fred smiled, standing up. He threw his empty bottle into the bin.
"That you liked her? I knew right about an hour after you figured it out last Christmas. I was getting bloody tired of you not doing anything about it, too."
9.50pm. "Fred, I'll be coming by with the latest financials after I've had dinner with the parents. Glad to be done with them, they kept me awake all night. You owe me. Hermione.
"Fred, I'll be coming by with the latest financials after I've had dinner with the parents. Glad to be done with them, they kept me awake all night. You owe me. Hermione.I owe you."
"And you thought I meant sex? You idiot." She whacked him on the shoulder with the papers she still held. "You do realise I sent that exact letter to George as well, just changed the bloody name."
"He didn't say anything!"
"Wait, you told him?"
"Yes, it's not every day Hermione Granger propositions you."
"What did he say?"
"Nothing. He just said he'd stay at Angie's tonight. Lousy sod," Fred spat. "He agreed with me that this was what you wanted, convinced me to do this, because you wanted me. You didn't mean sex?"
"I didn't mean it when I wrote the note! I don't write things like that, certainly not in business correspondence." Hermione could feel a flush on her cheeks. "All I meant was I had spent the last few nights going over them, making sure everything was perfect, and that you two owed me. I was thinking dinner; I would never assume that you would want to trade... No! I didn't mean that."
"He set me up, the bastard. I'm going to kill him," he said angrily, starting to pace the floor. "He came up with the idea, you know. 'It would be hard for her to reject you when you're naked, go for it!' He'd better stay at Angie's a long time. As soon as he's home, I'm going to tear him a new one, and then shove something so large..."
"I get it!" she said quickly, not wanting to add that mental picture to her growing inventory. "I'm really sorry if there was a misunderstanding, Fred. I never intended to give you the wrong idea. Why would George make you do that, though? I know the two of you love a good prank, but that's just embarrassing, and he's not even here to make fun."
"It wasn't really a prank." Hermione watched him pull a shirt on rapidly, folding his arms over his chest. "It doesn't matter. I'll get him back. Don't worry about that."
"If it wasn't a prank, what was it?"
Fred didn't look at her; he avoided all contact with her as he headed into the kitchen. "Do you want a drink? I'm thirsty, could kill for some bloody Firewhiskey. Of course George cleaned off the last of it."
"Fred, what's going on?"
"He wasn't pranking me. There was no joke."
"Then what is it?"
He turned to her, then. "Are you really that bloody stupid? A naked man was waiting for you. There was no joke. Connecting the dots yet, Granger?"
She shook her head as he threw down the glass of water, watching her closely.
"You were waiting for me?"
"Yes." He rolled his eyes as he said this, waving his arm at her. "Keep going."
"As the day I was born. Are you still not getting this yet?" Fred asked, a smile starting to spread over his face. "Really, Granger, you have to kill this genius reputation of yours. It's clearly false."
She scowled at him. Running over it in her head, Hermione could feel her eyes widen as she realised. He'd been naked, and he'd been waiting for her – in his bed; and he'd thought she wanted to have sex with him. "You wanted to…?!"
"Well, you're a good looking witch, Hermione, and well, I'm single. I'm not exactly going to turn down the offer when it's coming my way."
Hermione could feel the heat rushing to her face as he grinned at her. "I wasn't offering."
"That's a shame, Granger; would have been bloody brilliant."
Shoving the papers into his chest as he winked at her, she said firmly, "I don't think so. Good night Fred."
"Good night, Hermione; sweet dreams," he called out as she reached the door.
She growled to herself as she started down the stairs, cursing him all the way, and his brother as well. They were both as bad as each other. Making assumptions, being so incredibly rude, but doing it all with a charming smile. She would love to just wipe the smile off his face. That was seemingly impossible with them, though. They were immune to anyone trying to get one up on them. Merlin knows many had tried.
Hermione reached the entrance to the store when she turned around again, and with determined strides, walked back upstairs. Not knocking this time, she let herself into the flat.
Fred was leaning against the table with a smirk on his face. "Last word, Granger?"
"I'm going to need a few more words than that." He chuckled. "I may be a man of many talents, but Occlumency was never one of them."
"Why did you want to have sex with me? Even if you thought that was what I wanted, you could have ignored it. Nothing had to happen, but you wanted it to." Hermione smiled as she regained the upper hand. "Why?"
"I don't need a reason. I'm a bloke, and a good looking woman wanted to sleep with me. Honey, I'm not going to turn that down."
"That's such a copout!" Hermione snapped. "And a complete lie. I know you, Fred. You aren't the type to just be with someone simply because they want it. I hope you aren't that kind of person. Did you want to be with me?"
"That's what 'yes' means," he grumbled. "I wanted to have sex with you, more than once if that were possible. Have done for months now. I was thrilled when I thought you wanted the same. Now are you happy?"
Just like that, he retook the upper hand, sweeping the floor away from her at the same time.
"Months? You've liked me for months?"
Fred nodded; his eyes glued to a tile on the floor. "It's no big deal. I am skilled in ignoring it by now. The note, I suppose, made me think, and then George said..."
She didn't hear what he said as he continued. All she could do was watch his face as he spoke. The soft smile on his lips, different from the one he wore when he succeeded in tricking someone. There was a flush set high on his cheeks. Unlike the rest of the family, Fred didn't turn purple when he was embarrassed.
He was embarrassed. He liked her, and now she knew. Fred looked up at her then, and Hermione realised he'd stopped speaking. She'd been staring at him for several moments.
"I wish you would have told me."
"It wouldn't have done any good. You're our employee. More importantly, you are my friend. I was happy as things were."
"I'm not your employee; you don't pay me."
He laughed as she smiled at him. "Right. Still, it wouldn't be right. I'm happy being your friend. That's enough."
"There's another copout right there."
"It's true," Fred insisted. "It's the old cliché; I couldn't have what I wanted, so I was satisfied with what I could get. Why do you think I suggested you be our bookkeeper to George? There are dozens of people who are actually qualified, but we went with you – because I told George we should."
"But if you love someone, you have to tell them! It's not fair to anyone to keep that..."
"Wait – I don't love you."
"You don't?" she whispered.
Fred stood quickly. "No. I like you. It's a crush. That's all it is, easily forgettable. We've just got to give it time."
"Okay, good," Hermione said as quickly. "Well, that's a relief," she muttered as her stomach dropped. "But you know, you definitely owe me now; for all the unpaid hours and for the nightmares I'm going to have."
"Right." He grinned fast at her. "Sorry about that. Next time I'll wear pants. Don't want to ruin the eyes; can't exactly read when you've been blinded."
"It wasn't a bad view, just unexpected," she said, stopping as quickly as she'd started. "Well, good night again. Tonight never happened."
"Fine by me."
Hermione smiled, and hastily made her way to the door. She was about to open it when he called out to her.
"What is it?" she asked quietly as she turned.
"Aren't you curious?" Fred asked, coming to stand in front of her.
She nodded, her tongue heavy. The words were right there, but with him leaning over her, she failed to get them out.
"Please," she whispered, her hands coming up to hold onto his shirt.
With his hands on either side of her face, he brought his lips down to hers, a gentle brush against them before lingering.
Hermione angled her face closer, tightly holding onto his shirt with her fists. "Fred..."
The sound of her voice seemed to pull him from his trance, and with one hand on her hip, he pulled her tight against him. A moan escaped him as Hermione took the initiative, capturing his lips with hers, pulling them both back hard against the door. Her hand moved over him, around to his back, holding him firmly against her.
Hermione couldn't remember the last time she had felt something like this. This all-consuming need to feel him closer to her. He barely looked at her, the lightest of touches with his lips, and she wanted more. She pulled him as close as she could, pressing herself against the hard line of him. The sheer size of the feelings building inside of her surprised her. It was just a kiss. One perfect kiss, she told herself as his tongue moved against hers. One perfect kiss - that meant too much.
Bringing her hands up, she pushed his shoulders back, unable to stop the mew of disappointment.
"We can't do that, Fred."
"Yes, we can." He smiled, pressing a soft kiss to the skin below her ear. "I think it worked well."
"But feelings," Hermione whispered, her eyes closing as he continued. "You have them, and I don't want to hurt you. It's too much."
"It's not enough," she felt him mutter. Standing up straight, he looked into her eyes. "Feelings, then. What did you feel just now?"
"It was…" She couldn't find the right word. 'Nice' was hardly adequate, but anything more would put too much into it. "I felt tingly; my fingertips were tingly."
Fred grinned at her, tightening his grip on her waist. "Something you wouldn't mind feeling again?"
"I wouldn't complain," Hermione whispered as he slipped his hand under the hem of her jumper. "I don't want to give you the wrong idea, though, Fred. I like you. I do. I've just never thought about you that way. One really good kiss can't change that."
"I know. It can't hurt, though." He chuckled lightly. "You should go." He pulled away from her, running a hand through his hair. "Real soon."
"Okay... We can't leave it like this."
"I know, but if you don't go now, I'm going to start coming up with some dastardly ways to convince you that this is a very good idea. I don't think you'd be able to resist." He laughed quickly, opening the door for her. "I'll save them for another day."
"Another day when we can figure it out?" Hermione offered.
"I've got it figured out already. You figure it out as well, Hermione, and then we'll see how you resist."
"Clearly, I don't offer much resistance," she said quietly, suddenly nervous. "I'll figure it out."
"I'll be waiting." He smiled at her. "About earlier - the nakedness. I am sorry I did that. You didn't need to see that. George, he's a dead man walking."
"It's fine, really, and it will help the lists," Hermione said, eyes widening once more as she realised what she'd just said.
"Good reasons and bad reasons. It helps me figure things out," she whispered.
"Good or bad?"
"What do you think?" Hermione muttered. "I have to go."
"Definitely," he said vehemently, his grip tightening on the doorframe. "I may just try and convince you right now."
Before she said something else, Hermione kissed his cheek, and quickly stepped into the hall. She was thinking that he wouldn't have to try too hard if he kept looking at her like that. "I'll come by tomorrow. You can take me out to lunch; you do owe me double now."